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New Highway 7 a waste of money

I don’t know when, or where, or why the provincial NDP came to support the construction of a new four-lane divided highway through the farmland between here and Kitchener-Waterloo.
I go to all the meetings of the local NDP riding association. I don’t recall it being discussed at one of them. I haven’t been to a convention in several years. Maybe at one of them a resolution was put on the floor calling on the provincial party to get behind the highway. I doubt it, though. I’m sure I would have seen the press release. It could have been a caucus decision. Or maybe a back room campaign strategy idea.
Whatever. Apparently, a decision was made. It moved to the front room and came to light, for me at least, during the recent Kitchener-Waterloo provincial byelection. Premier Dalton McGuinty made one of his last ditch attempts to buy his candidate a seat in the legislature. There aren’t any hydro generating plants to close down in Waterloo Region, so McGuinty did the next best thing. He promised a quick start to the new highway. He hoped this would divert attention away from his attack on teachers’ bargaining rights.
It didn’t work. His man came in third, behind the NDP and the second place Conservatives. The other two candidates could point to the farm land and tell voters not to worry about Liberal promises. They would do the same.
There are loads of reasons why I have supported the NDP in every election for the past 30 years.
On balance, they easily outweigh this one. But it irritates me more because it is so profoundly wrong.
We don’t need a new highway. We need to straighten and widen the one we already have.
Every weekday, Highway 7 carries about 20,000 vehicles along the 11 kilometre, two-lane stretch from Guelph to Breslau, where the highway was upgraded to accommodate traffic to the Region of Waterloo international airport. It is very frustrating when you are on your way to work and all you can see is a couple of kilometres of brake lights in front of you.  Carving a new highway to the north of the existing one is not the answer.
Take a look at the Sea to Sky highway that runs about 130 km from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver up to Pemberton, 30 km the other side of Whistler. It has a daily volume of about 16,000 vehicles. That includes family cars, Greyhound coaches, tractor-trailers and logging trucks. Half go as far as Squamish, the rest keep going to Whistler. The highway was upgraded prior to the Olympics. It comfortably handled a higher volume of traffic in the couple of weeks the games were on.
For most of the 40 km to Squamish they widened the road to four lanes, with a median barrier down the centre. The other 90 km is now mostly three lanes with alternating passing opportunities. While widening it, they also straightened it and improved sightlines. The cost of the improvement was $600 million.
Averaged out over the full stretch of highway, that comes in at about $4.5 million per kilometre. At this cost, the 11 km between here and Breslau could be fixed up for about $50 million. Maybe less, because there aren’t the daunting engineering challenges here as on the Sea to Sky.
A new four-lane divided highway to Waterloo will carry a price tag of about  $300 million. Is it worth the extra quarter of a billion dollars? It won’t be any safer, or more efficient, than properly improving the one we already have.

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